Is New School Marketing Really That Different From Old School?

oldschoolhouseMy online friend John Cavanaugh’s recent post got me thinking about the hot rivalry between new school vs. old school marketing. We all know those feel good buzz words like transparency, conversation and engagement, but I question their truth in meaning in the online world. I am realizing that the new way of marketing is not as different from the old way as we are often led to believe. It all depends on your perspective and your approach.

Putting a business out there with a blog and on Facebook and Twitter is a good thing. It allows consumers to at least feel like the company is accessible, but does it really offer that transparency that everyone says is so essential? I think it’s more like translucence. No company is going to be completely transparent. Most companies and organizations highly monitor their Facebook posts, blog posts and Twitter feeds. They are most often manned by PR, marketing, communications or customer service people within the organization. In other words, trained professionals well-versed in the company’s mission, style, philosophy and message. These people are in fact crafting their posts to serve the best interest of the company. You know, just like advertising, only folksier.

I submit that social media usage by business is simply a newer form of advertising. Let’s face it, a Facebook page is designed to generate interest in and attention to a brand (just like advertising), with the added bonus of actually hearing and seeing what people are saying about you (just like focus groups). The point of a business gaining fans, followers and subscribers may seem like it’s about building a “community,” but when it gets right down to the core, it’s about getting a following of existing or potential customers to like your brand, with the end goal of selling whatever it is that you are selling to them (just like advertising). It’s a powerful way to get consumers to try your Kool-aid, like it, then buy it (just like handing out free samples in the grocery store). The more fans, followers and subscribers you get, the more people start talking about your brand or business around the web, which in turn builds brand awareness (just like advertising).

So I propose that we stop the bickering between the new school and the old school and realize that we’re not as different as we may think. I suggest we stop using the word “transparent,” adopt the more accurate word “translucent” instead, and just feel hopeful that businesses can no longer get away with being opaque.

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Dish Network: A Profile In Poor Marketing

DISH POSTCARD019A few weeks back, this direct mail piece came addressed to me from Dish Network. It features a picture of an olive-skinned and black haired beauty on the front and handsome dark haired, stubble-bearded man on the back. Beyond that, I cannot tell you what it says because it’s written in Arabic. My husband and I first had a little chuckle about it, but the longer this piece sat on my desk, the more it bothered me. It appears that it was sent to me because of the ethnicity of my last name, however I have a distinctly Armenian name, not Arabic. Although Armenia is in the general area of many Arabic speaking nations, Armenians actually do not speak Arabic as their native language; they speak Armenian. Different culture, different language and different alphabet altogether.

I found out that Dish Network is on Twitter, so I quickly tweeted them asking to be connected to someone in their marketing department to discuss an issue. I swiftly got a tweet back saying that I should DM them with the specific issue so that they can be sure to “connect me with the right person.” As succinctly as possible in 140 characters, I stated that I was offended by being ethnically targeted with a direct mail piece and wanted to discuss it with someone. Silence. A day passed and I sent them another DM, asking to please be connected to someone who could discuss this with me. Silence. I went to their web site, found a customer service email address and sent a message explaining the situation in detail, why it bothered me, and again asked to be connected to someone who could address this with me. Silence.

So here’s what’s so wrong with this entire scenario from a marketing, customer service and social media perspective:

1. If a company is going to send out a direct mail piece, then they better be darn sure they know who they are targeting.

2. Making an ill-informed assumption that someone with a name from a certain ethnic group speaks a certain language is wrong for several reasons. In my case:
- Armenians aren’t native Arabic speakers. Some Armenian may speak Arabic, but that’s not typical. Clumping everyone with heritage from that region of the world into a general category of Middle Eastern and making assumptions based on that, negates the richness of Armenian culture and the myriad of other cultures that grew from that region.
- I am a 2nd generation Armenian-American. Not only do I not speak or read Arabic, but I do not even speak Armenian (except for a few words like girl, yogurt, dog and how are you) and can’t read it at all. I happen to speak and read English as my native language.
- For all the Dish Network marketers know, I may not even be Armenian. I could be from any ethnic group, and simply married to someone with an Armenian name.
- Even if my heritage were from an Arabic speaking culture, why would it be assumed that I speak and read Arabic?

3. If a company has a presence in social media, then they are essentially inviting people to contact them with comments, suggestions or problems. If a consumer does contact them via social media with a problem, then they are obliged to answer. What’s the point of being there if they don’t? To just have the appearance of being accessible?

4. If a company tells someone that they will connect them with the “right” person, then should connect them with the right person, not just ignore them.

5. If a company has a contact email on their website and someone takes the time to contact them, explain a problem, and ask for assistance, then they should respond to them, not just ignore them.

Yes, I admit, this post is a bit of a rant, but I am angry that I have been targeted and profiled in this way. I am angry that I tried to contact Dish Network to discuss this and was even invited to do so. But instead of offering me some kind of response, they chose to ignore me instead.
Moral of the story:
1. Direct mail campaigns based on ethnic or racial profiling are probably not a good idea.
2. If a consumer has a problem or complaint, then it’s probably a good idea for the company to respond (in English).

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Great Expectations: Brand Building and ROI

coin returnBrand building and the return on the investment it takes to build a brand are, to a great degree, difficult things to measure. They can be a bit elusive and hard to define. The measurement involves participation in and understanding of a process that takes place over time, utilizing and considering numerous variables and methods to create a sense of familiarity, awareness and trust in a product or brand name. *Note the phrase “over time.”

There are some seemingly lucky dogs that hit on an overnight success, but those instances are rare, and most often only have the appearance of overnight success. The behind the scenes relentless messaging, marketing, PR, promotion and brand building work that takes place is usually not visible to the naked eye. And it really shouldn’t be.

Patience is key here. Focusing too heavily on tangible and quick ROI, dollar for dollar is futile. Investing in a promotional campaign that sends traffic to your site, starts people talking on the internet and elsewhere about your brand, increasing your Google ranking, getting your brand more attention from other media and other venues, though it may not seem like a strong dollar for dollar return, one has to consider what awareness is worth. When does the dollar return come from a promotional investment? Maybe not for months or even longer. What will greater brand awareness lead to? Customer trust and loyalty, new business, and more sales, but it most likely will not be right away. To expect to pay a dollar for promotional work and the next day get two dollars back is unrealistic, but that oftentimes is the expectation when a client asks about ROI.

Data is useful, no doubt about that, but data can be deceiving. If a promotional campaign does not immediately and directly produce sales, but does drive traffic and produce positive awareness, is that considered to be a poor return on investment? I would argue that ROI doesn’t necessarily have to translate directly to dollars out vs. dollars back in. The return may not come in ways that can easily be counted. The return can come in ways that are impossible to measure. It can come from a positive consumer feeling about and recognition of a brand, trust in a product, understanding of and connection to what the brand stands for and what a company is all about. All of that has to come before many consumers will be willing to spend one penny to buy. How do you measure and value the various elements of ROI?

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Has Social Media Cheapened Creative Talent?

pulpfictionOne of the basic concepts in social media and online networking and marketing is about giving, yet there seems to be a lot more taking going on lately. Although I agree that the participation in the social web absolutely needs to have that element of helpfulness, it doesn’t mean that professional creative services should be expected to be given away for free or for a few bucks. Here are a few recent scenarios that have come to my attention:

In various LinkedIn discussion groups:
Someone asking for “suggestions” for a new tag line for their company.
Someone asking for “suggestions” for re-branding of a web domain.
Someone asking for the best solutions to market their brand.

Craig’s List:
Someone asking for product designs on spec: Create it, design it, give it to us and if we like it, we’ll pay you.
A prominent children’s brand looking for a product designer to work unpaid for 3 months which “may lead to a paid position.”

Numerous online news or information sites:
Writers provide free content or content for a few bucks an article in exchange for “exposure.”

Online printers:
Offering a free clip art logo with every printing job.

These are just a few of the myriad of examples of businesses looking for and/or taking free or nearly free, design, marketing or content to build their own businesses. There’s nothing wrong with helping people, offering advice and yes, sometimes offering limited services for free or at a discount, but there seems to be a disconnect somewhere that discounts talent and quality which, in turn, devalues and cheapens creative work.

A good example here is the case of the online printing service offering a free clip art logo with every printing job. This company is not a graphic design house, they are a printing house. A more appropriate offer might be to giveaway an extra few pieces of whatever is being printed. Giveaway the printing, not low level clip art logos. Yes it’s a logo, and yes, the customer might need a logo, but it’s not doing the customer any favors by offering them a logo that looks like it was designed by a 5th grader. There actually is no value in doing that, because even if their customer doesn’t realize the low quality, the marketplace probably will, and a poor unprofessional image will be projected.

It seems that it’s becoming a common practice to not only ask for, but expect creative work for free or virtually free. There is that old saying that “you get what you pay for.” This isn’t to say necessarily that the more expensive something is the better, but it’s safe to say that most professional quality work is not going to be found for free. The problem here lies in when businesses don’t see or know the difference between professional quality work and low level work that appears to fill a particular need at a particular time for a bargain or lower than bargain price. Is it really still true that content and quality is king or is a bargain the new reigning ruler? Is this a larger cultural question? Let me know what you think…

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How (not) To Build A Marketing Strategy

I took part in an online group discussion yesterday on LinkedIn that started from a business owner posing the question:

“Can anyone suggest the best areas to spend marketing budgets in difficult times such as these?”

The floodgates immediately opened, and asking that question resulted in quick machine gun responses from numerous marketing types all mapping out in a few sentences how this man should spend his marketing budget. The funny thing about the responses is that with the exception of mine and about five other people, they all had two things in common:

My solution is your solution

The first thing was, not surprisingly, they all said the best use of this man’s marketing budget was to use their services, which included: SEO, taking clients out to fancy restaurants for lunch for some one on one, writing a white paper, reading someone else’s white paper, adding a blog to his site, engaging in social media marketing, purchasing lists of sales leads, producing videos of customer testimonials, and on and on.

Who are you and what do you want?

The second thing that they had in common was that none of these people offering up their services to this man had anywhere near enough information to even begin to guess what would work for this company. There was no indication of what kind of business he had, who his customers were, what his budget was, or what his marketing goals were. In other words, there was no information to build a marketing PLAN.

All of the suggestions that people made to this man could potentially be valid and useful, but how could anyone possibly know that they had THE solution for him? Without more information it really was an impossible question that could not and should not have been answered in that forum. This man believed that he could pose the question and get a marketing plan for himself for free, but all he got instead was a bunch of sales pitches from people playing out their own marketing strategy of pitching their services in LinkedIn discussion groups.

Get to know yourself

Businesses need to do some of their own homework first before they can reach out and expect to get a valid marketing strategy in place. Seeking assistance with marketing is absolutely a fine thing to do, but first you have to know at least the basics of who you are, what you are trying to achieve, who your customers are and what your budget is. Then, go to a creative marketing strategist that can build a working marketing plan with you to reach your goals. In business (and in life for that matter) the answers are usually not that easy to attain.

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Are You a Graduate of the Old School or the New School?

oldschoolThere are two camps that seem to be fighting each other these days. One is the old school camp of marketing and promotion and one is the new school. Paper and phones vs. digital and blogs. The conflict comes from the pure traditionalists that are closed to and a little fearful of the new and the cutting edge youngsters hooked up to their laptops and other devises who haven’t been around long enough to have ever seen the effectiveness of the old.

A friend of mine, who runs a pretty successful product design consultancy, is purely old school. I’d link to her site here, but she doesn’t have one. She isn’t on LinkedIn, has no idea what Twitter or Facebook is, only uses email to send files, yet she is a sought after designer. She uses pencil and paper and a telephone to do business. How does she get clients? The old fashioned way. By sending a beautifully designed direct mail piece and following up with a phone call. Remember mail, with stamps and envelopes? It works for her and she has no shortage of clients.

There are those that would be screaming that, in order to be competitive, you have got to get out there in the social media world. You have to have a blog, you have to be on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, comment on other blogs, rub elbows with the who’s who in the digital world. In a lot of cases this is absolutely true. I’ve said that myself, but I’m seeing a trend of everyone telling everyone else how to run their businesses, old and new alike.

My argument in support of old is that there is so much information and non-stop talk going on out there in the digital world that people find themselves yelling or talking more and more thinking that will get more attention. It starts to get so noisy out there that it’s really hard to stand out as an individual. Because of this, the old school approach starts to seem new again. Getting a beautiful or interesting promotional piece in the mail is a special thing again, and ironically is something that can have the power to make a business stand out from the crowd of the electronic images and messages that bombarded us on a daily basis. It’s like hanging onto that halter top for so long, that it came back in style, and actually looks pretty good with those new pants.

My argument for new school is that it is so quick and so vast, that it opens up a whole new opportunity for people to access your business and for your business to access people. It’s engaging, dynamic, and if used creatively, has the potential to grow your business beyond your wildest dreams. I just think there needs to be a balance. Every business, every person has their own philosophy and methods of reaching their market. Assumptions can’t be made that old is dead and new is it (or vice versa). I’ve been around long enough to have witnessed the success from using both methods. I was college educated during old school times and self educated on the job during new school times. It’s not an either/or scenario. I think both schools still have some learning to do.

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